8/30/2012
05:10 PM
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Second Middle Eastern Utility Hit By Malware Attack

Qatar gas company hack similar pattern as that of Saudi Arabian oil company -- shades of Shamoon?



Qatar’s RasGas -- one of the largest natural gas producers in the world -- is the latest Middle Eastern utility this month to suffer a major malware attack that took down some of its internal systems.

According to a Reuters report, RasGas detected "an unknown" virus on its office computers on Monday, and its website and email servers appeared to be offline as well.

The attack is eerily reminiscent of the one experienced this month by Saudi Aramco, which spread to 30,000 of the massive oil company's workstations -- the same number quoted by the attackers who took responsibility for the attack and gave a hat tip to Shamoon malware research in an online post. Neither Saudi Aramco nor security researchers who have studied the malware in the oil company attack would confirm the connection, but one source with knowledge of the attacks confirmed that the attack on Saudi Aramco was Shamoon. Like Saudi Aramco, RasGas said its production systems were not hit in the attack. "Operational systems both onsite and offshore are secure and this does not affect production at the Ras Laffan Industrial City plant or scheduled cargoes," the company said in a statement reported by Reuters.

It's unclear whether the RasGas attacks came from Shamoon. Some security experts say Shamoon is part of a wider campaign of attacks than was first believed. Shamoon isn't your typical targeted attack: It's not all about spying or stealing information, but instead it's aimed at total annihilation of the data and machines.

Shamoon, a.k.a. W32.Disttrack, not only trashes files, but also overwrites the system's Master Boot Record (MBR) to disable the computer altogether. It's made up of three components: a dropper that also unleashes other modules; a wiper that performs the destruction element of the attack; and a reporter, which reports the progress of the attack back to the attacker. The wiper component deletes the existing driver and overwrites the signed one.

Speculation has run high over who is behind the Shamoon attacks, everything from a traditional hacktivist group to the Iranian government.

ICS-CERT yesterday issued Website and alert on Shamoon. "Because of the highly destructive functionality of the Shamoon “Wiper” module, an organization infected with the malware could experience operational impacts including loss of intellectual property (IP) and disruption of critical systems. Actual impact to organizations vary, depending on the type and number of systems impacted," the alert says.

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Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Executive Editor of Dark Reading. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

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